Thursday, May 12, 2011

Attica (Ripponlea) 05/2011

We were almost speechless after dining at Attica last night. When S. Pellegrino sponsored 100 best restaurants came out in Restaurant magazine last month Ben Skewry said these things have to be taken with a grain of salt and that, we thought, was a very reasonable assessment. Up 20 odd places from last year to 53th in the world and the only Melbourne restaurant to get in the list it did seem a little extreme.
It's changed a bit. They've renovated the dining area. The walls are darker, the lighting directed at the food, Cam, their long time major domo has gone, the menu has only one dish that I recognized from last year and it's all good, actually much better than good.
It started with an amuse bouche, a lightly marinated prawn tail in a most delicate citrus sauce.
The meal consists of an eight course tasting menu ($150/person) and there is a five course menu but the whole table must have the same menu. Matched wines add $95.
The first course, Snow crab was inspired by memories of the snow covered North Island New Zealand mountain near where Ben grew up.

It looked like a small mountain of snow, actually made from dried powdered horseradish. Under this was an extraordinary combination of flavours. As an example of the complexity of the dishes the ingredients included chopped egg white, snow crab seasoned lightly with lemon juice and grapeseed oil, freeze dried coconut, barberries, puffed rice, salmon roe, raw sliced witlof and verjus granita. On this background the small berries and the slmon roe produced extraordinary bursts of flavour in the mouth.
Marron, leek, egg yolk came next. I'm not sure why these pic's came out so pink but never mind.

The hallmark of this dish was delicacy of the marron which, unusually in restaurants in Victoria, had retained its flavour and was as fresh and moist as if it had only left the water an hour ago.
A simple dish of potato, cooked in the earth it was grown is about as good a way of eating potato you could ever wish for. The potato, firm but well cooked, was beautifully complimented by the base of goat milk curd with a scattering of coffee bean on which it rested.

Shiitake mushroom, grown near Geelong, and meat from the pearl oyster pincada maxima from near Broome may come from opposite sides of the country but, in a delicate sauce made from the mushrooms and oysters, they united into a superb dish.
The oyster meat, from the adductor muscle, was very similar to abalone for which one would pay a large amount of money in a good restaurant.
Pork tail, pickled onion, red melon and dune spinach came next. It might sound an unattractive proposition to munch on a pigs tail, no matter how it's been disguised. Presented as a rectangular cake with a tender shredded meat inside a crisp outer shell it was yet another superb dish with super accompaniments.

Even better was the beef tongue, vanilla, Myrtus and lettuce stems.
Who would ever think of using lettuce stems. The tongue had been cooked to make it almost a pate in texture melting n the mouth while retaining the taste of the tongue. This was my favourite dish though Sandra preferred the Snow crab.
Two desserts followed. Autumn apples, Stern Pippins, served with red and green sugared vine leaves was sweet sour

followed by strawberries, strawberry oil, soured cream which was very sweet. Our waiter then brought a set of eggs in a grass bed with a little gorse around them. They were representations of the chickens that Skewry's father has on his New Zealand farm.
The service was outstanding. The waiters knew everything about the source of the ingredients, the cooking methods and their symbolic significance for the chef. They were courteous, of course, and efficient without being in your face. The atmosphere of the place is refined without any touch of snootyness. Everything is tasteful, the white clothed tables and napkins, the cutlery and the little dishes in which salt, butter and smoked olive oil were presented.

Unusually, we found the matched wines particularly appropriate for the dishes.
In all a really great meal with great attention to detail, finely matched flavours combined with great delicacy and respect for the original products.
Score: 18.5/20

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